JobPath, a government-funded job-training program, has been blasted by critics for being controlled by the Pima County Interfaith Council, a strident, religious-based organization.
Hermi Cubillos, the JobPath executive director, responds: "PCIC is a pain in the butt for me. They really hold us accountable. No agency in town is scrutinized as much as this one."
Using the results of a door-to-door survey they conducted in 1996, which showed higher-paying jobs were the top priority of poor Tucson families, PCIC pushed for the creation of JobPath. Initially securing funding for the program primarily from the city of Tucson and Pima County, JobPath seeks to supply two years of training and guidance to people seeking higher-paying jobs.
"Our mission is totally different from Pima County's One Stop Career Center," Cubillos says of the comparison between the biggest job training program in town and her own. "We work with the notch group which earns more than the federal poverty level. We don't duplicate services."
While both programs offer support to participants in areas such as child care and transportation, they do differ in several ways.
Using $3.7 million supplied from a variety of sources--but not a nickel from the city of Tucson--the Career Center during the last fiscal year served 2,000 workers displaced from jobs or other adults looking for better employment opportunities, at an average cost of $1,850. While participants in the adult-training programs are from households earning less than the federal poverty level, displaced workers can have more income.
In the same time period, JobPath assisted 175 people, spending $439,000 to do so, an average cost of $2,509. These funds came primarily from Pima County, and Cubillos says administration costs were 15 percent of the total expenditures.
Another difference between the two agencies is that JobPath pays for training only at Pima Community College, in a limited number of areas. "We're an industry-driven program," Cubillos says of JobPath's focus on jobs in the health care, construction, education, aviation and bio-tech fields.
The Career Center offers 381 options at technical and professional schools, as well as at PCC. They also impose a $3,500 limit on a participant's total funding, while JobPath does not.
The amount of counseling received by program participants is another difference. During training, Career Center students meet with job counselors at least monthly. Those in JobPath attend peer support sessions twice a month and receive a free $15 gas card as an incentive.
A final difference is in program follow-up. After graduating, Career Center students see counselors quarterly for a year. JobPath doubles that length of time, and also asks its participants to pay back something, either through community service or reimbursement.
Acknowledging that only 35 percent of JobPath graduates actually do so, Cubillos is still amazed at the results. Believing early in the program's history that the requirement wouldn't amount to anything, Cubillos now says: "I was surprised by that figure."
Numbers supplied by the Career Center indicate 81 percent of their participants found jobs after completing the program. Cubillos states that 99 percent of JobPath students find employment in the fields they were trained for.
Pointing to a JobPath fact sheet, Cubillos adds that the average JobPath graduate earns more than twice the amount they were making before enrolling in the program. An example is a woman who last year went from a job paying $9 hourly to working as a nurse at University Medical Center for $21.50 an hour.
The Career Center and JobPath aren't the only employment-training programs in Tucson. Some 300 young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are enrolled at the Fred G. Acosta Job Corps Center. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, the facility teaches eight vocations while providing housing, food and recreational opportunities to students, with 90 percent of graduates getting jobs. The comprehensive nature of the Job Corps costs $22,000 per person.
Yet another program, Jobs for Life, is a donation-funded, faith-based effort which doesn't cost taxpayers anything. Local volunteer instructors use a training kit to teach participants, who take a total of 24 two-hour classes.
Beth Walkup helped establish the program in Tucson and says: "Businesses told us habits such as trustworthiness and showing up on time are important characteristics in an employee. Our classes use the Bible as a basis to demonstrate these qualities.
"Employers can train their workers," Walkup continues, "but they can't make them honest."
For her part, Cubillos stresses: "Employers want skilled workers."
To expand JobPath, as one of its first acts in December, the new Tucson City Council directed the agency be given $500,000 in funding from local coffers, beginning on July 1.
Even though JobPath was funded by the city in four of the last six years, this step outraged opponents of PCIC. While past City Councils, with little public fanfare, gave away millions of dollars in tax breaks and other benefits to the home-building industry in exchange for political support, the half-million dollars in money earmarked for JobPath was loudly criticized as simply a payoff to PCIC.
Why does Cubillos think JobPath received so much criticism after the council's funding vote? "It's a way to attack PCIC," she says. "We're the most vulnerable, because we get public funds."
But she offers another perspective on the City Council's action. "We're the best nonprofit work-force agency in the community," Cubillos claims. "We believe in two-year training. That leads to a career and higher paying jobs. We've delivered what we said we would."